Nukes, terrorism and Zarif’s ‘economic terrorism’ - analysis

Iran is about a week away from a self-set deadline that could lead it to significantly escalate its so far limited violations of the 2015 nuclear deal.

By
August 29, 2019 20:32
3 minute read.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attend a meeting with

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attend a meeting with Muslim leaders and scholars in Hyderabad, India, February 15, 2018. (photo credit: DANISH SIDDIQUI/ REUTERS)

Observers could be pardoned for falling out of their chairs upon hearing Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accuse the US of “economic terrorism” on Thursday.

It’s not just that most of Western civilization views Iran as sponsoring terrorist activities throughout the Middle East and even sometimes in Europe and elsewhere.

It’s not just that most of Western civilization believes that Iran is still seeking some of the five nuclear weapons that the Mossad revealed it was seeking in the early 2000s, when Israel’s spy agency appropriated Tehran’s secret nuclear files in January 2018.

And in fairness to the Islamic republic, many Western countries oppose or have mixed feelings about America’s renewed sanctions campaign that started in May 2018.

But for one of the world’s leading sponsors of terrorism and a proven attempted nuclear proliferator to call the US sanctions campaign “terrorism” of any kind is breathtaking, even for a regime that prides itself on spin-doctoring reality.

Because of all of this, Zarif’s comment would already be news as a sensational item. But there was much more to his statements on Thursday than the sensational aspect.

Iran is about a week away from a self-set deadline that could lead it to significantly escalate its so far limited violations of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The escalated violations, unlike the limited violations in July, would likely put Iran, the US and Israel on a countdown to a potential major military confrontation over whether it will acquire a nuclear weapon.

At the same time, this week saw the first serious flurry of diplomacy between the US and Iran during US President Donald Trump’s tenure.

Both Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on the same day that they would be potentially willing to meet within weeks – probably when each of them speaks at the UN next month.

Zarif’s statements must be seen in this context, but they also present a dilemma for what Tehran needs to decide.

If Iran will only start negotiations with the US if all sanctions are first lifted (which could get Iran back to exporting between a million and two million barrels of oil per day), there will be no negotiations.

This is Zarif’s language of economic terrorism.

If Iran will start negotiations with limited sanctions relief – probably a temporary restoration of US sanctions waivers to certain countries such that Iran can up its oil exports from 100,000 barrels per day to around 700,000 barrels per day – there is a real possibility of negotiations.

Tehran has a history of blustering and brinkmanship before making concessions.

While there are serious debates whether the Obama administration obtained enough concessions from Iran in the 2015 deal, there was one big concession Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made, which he had promised he would never make.

He had promised he would never disassemble a single centrifuge for enriching uranium.

In the end, he approved disassembling close to 75% of Iran’s centrifuges, leaving under 6,000 from the original 20,000.

The disassembling and the sale of nearly all of Iran’s already enriched uranium is what pushed back Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon in three months or less, to attaining one in the current time frame of about a year.

Is Zarif’s statement a last bluster before Iran makes its first concession to get back to the negotiating table in the coming weeks?

Or was Zarif’s statement a return to the Islamic republic’s uncompromising stance and strategy to try to wait out Trump?

The answer to that question will determine whether the nuclear standoff greatly escalates in the coming weeks, or whether we see the first serious diplomatic moves after a 16-month standoff.


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